In a previous post I quoted author Jonathan Franzen, and do so again as his views are thought provoking. Regarded as one of America’s greatest living novelists, he is not a fan of the ebook.
“The technology I like is the American paperback edition of Freedom. I can spill water on it and it would still work! So it’s pretty good technology. And what’s more, it will work great 10 years from now. I think, for serious readers, a sense of permanence has always been part of the experience. Everything else in your life is fluid, but here is this text that doesn’t change.”
When I first read this quote I immediately thought, what a strange thing to say. An ebook is forever. Once it’s out there, it’s there until the writer takes it down. A printed book only exists while it is in print. And paper and ink can rot, burn, fade and be physically destroyed. Therefore lost in that way.
Then I thought some more about permanence/impermanence. When it comes to matters digital, different formats need different hardware to read. We have a choice of formats – kindle, kobo, nook – to name a few, that all vary. But if you can read, you can read a print book without needing some special device.
And of course, some digital formats become obsolete. We only have to think about Amstrad (my first proper computer!), cassette tapes, video now replaced by dvd (which will undoubtedly disappear in time). Content on these formats has been lost.
When I started writing, my work was stored on big floppy disks, then smaller versions for the Amstrad (not compatible with any other format!), then pc floppies, and memory sticks. Now we can store data on wafer thin cards and out there in the cloud. All these changes in the space of a relatively few years. So now I can get a handle on what Franzen is saying. And it is so easy and cheap to alter digital content compared to amending a printed copy of a book.
Personally, I am a fan of both formats. I love printed books and I love my kindle. I’ve also read extended pieces on my blackberry. I can’t help wondering what the future will hold…….
By Jane Ayres